The all-night sessions, heated confrontations and threats of walkouts that marked the recent Wye Accord negotiations had their parallel 20 years ago, when the Camp David Agreement lay the groundwork for the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
Back then, as now, the personalities and human interaction among the three pricipals -- the leaders of the United States, Israel and the Arab side -- were as important as the issues and political strategies highlighted in the news.
This lesson was brought home at a remarkable meeting last month, when many of the leading participants in the Camp David negotiations gathered for a 20th-anniversary retrospective at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba.
At hand were two of the then-key players, former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and former Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Khalil.
Prominent Jordanian and Egyptian peace advocates also participated, as did such Israeli veterans of Camp David as Simcha Dinitz, Elyakim Rubinstein and Meir Rosenne.
The president of Ben-Gurion University, Avishay Braverman, said that he had extended an invitation to Carter, but the former president was not able to attend.
The case for human relationships as the ultimate force in diplomacy was put forward in an address by Harold Saunders, who, in 1978, served as U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs.
In diplomacy, and especially peace-making, "we must widen the angle of our lens from the traditional focus on government and institutions to include human beings outside government," Saunders said. "Many of today's deep-rooted conflicts are beyond the reach of government. [Negotiations are] not just about concrete issues; they are about human relationships.... These conflicts are not ready for formal mediation, because people do not negotiate about identity, fear, historic grievances or acceptance."
The human equation was important to Carter, who, before the Camp David summit was convened, told the CIA that he wanted to be "steeped in the personalities of Begin and Sadat" and asked for exhaustive personality profiles of the two leaders, said Saunders.
The task fell to psychiatrist Jerrold Post, who found that Sadat's and Begin's personalities could hardly have been further apart, making their ultimate accord even more astonishing.
Sadat was a "big picture" man who detested details and felt he was destined to play a transcendent role in history. By contrast, Begin's mind focused on exacting details, legal precision and nuances of language. In addition, he was marked by the searing impact of the Holocaust, and he instinctively recoiled from what he felt as pressure exerted by a superior force.
How the two leaders were perceived, especially by their domestic enemies, bears considerable resemblance to the current situation in the Middle East, Post said in an interview with The Jewish Journal during the conference.
When Sadat came to Jerusalem in November 1977, he "was seen by the radical Arab world as a traitor," Post said. "Begin was expected to cement the Greater Israel, and when, instead, he compromised, many of his followers felt that he had betrayed them.
"Now, 20 years later, Arab rejectionists rail at Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as a traitor. On the other side, many who voted for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to reverse the Oslo agreement now feel that they have been betrayed."
Despite the collegial and civil tone of the conference, current regional animosities occasionally broke through. Israeli tempers frayed when Arafat adviser Bassam Abu Sharif recited a list of grievances against the Netanyahu government.
And when Abu Sharif later proclaimed that Palestinians and Israelis should walk hand in hand for peace, former Begin aide Yehiel Kadishai called out: "Say it in Arabic to your people, not here in English."
No startling historical secrets were uncovered by the participants, but the purpose and success of the conference lay elsewhere, said its organizer, Dr. Dror Ze'evi, head of BGU's Chaim Herzog Center.
"While we got some good historical material for later analysis, the main achievement of the conference was the fact that it happened," Ze'evi said. "It's a success when in a time of tension, senior Jordanian, Palestinian and Egyptian diplomats and scholars sit down with Israelis to talk seriously and quietly about their past conflicts and current problems." -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Jewish Teens Charged with Vandalism
In a surprising twist, two Jewish teens were arrested Jan. 4 in Calabasas on charges of hate-crime vandalism and felony vandalism following the discovery of a swastika painted on the wall of a local elementary school.
School security guards at Chaparral Elementary discovered over New Year's weekend the graffiti, which included the swastika and a "white power" slogan, and they called school principal Mary Sistrunk.
"The graffiti was all over the school, but it was mostly initials," said Sistrunk, adding that such attacks at the school were rare. "Fortunately, we were able to get it cleaned up before the students got here."
The suspects, both from the Calabasas area, also attacked cars in the surrounding neighborhood in what Det. John Manwell of the Lost Hills Sheriff's Department called a one-night rampage.
"I talked to the kids, and another one who was not involved in the crime but knew the suspects, and I don't believe there was any real racist or anti-Semitic motivation. They just did it for pure shock value," said Manwell. "Still, it's very upsetting. Hopefully, [their arrest] will send out a message that this sort of thing is not going to be tolerated." -- Wendy Madnick, Valley Editor
911 from 9 to 5
Remember those affecting billboards that promoted the Jewish Federation as "The Other 911?"
The ad campaign claimed that for Jews in need, the Federation was the place to call for help.
That's true -- but it depends on when you call. These days, when you try the Federation's main number (323-761-8000) after 5 p.m. and before 9 a.m., you'll get a recording that says the office is closed. There is no number to call in case of emergency -- you're being evicted from a nursing home, say, or you need a rabbi for a deathbed visit, or a family crisis demands the instant and usually expert help of Jewish Family Service.
The Federation's recorded message offers only two numbers to call for immediate assistance: Security for the building that houses the Federation itself, and the Federation's press relations and publicity department.
The Federation is now looking at ways to help those who call after hours, but has not yet reached a decision, said Federation executive vice president John Fishel. In the meantime, for any non-press-related emergencies, you'll need to call, um, 911. -- Robert Eshman, Managing Editor
The Literary Scene
The fact that Jews are people of the book has been borne out by the growing attendance at The Literary Scene, a 5-year-old discussion group sponsored by the Women's Department of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
The bimonthly meetings, which take place on Monday mornings, between September and June, used to be held at Federation headquarters. But so many eager readers now participate that, as of the new year, the group will be meeting in a spacious hall at Temple Beth Am.
The Literary Scene features books by Jewish authors, as well as works that touch on Jewish topics. Recent selections, which have engendered heated debate, include Philip Roth's "American Pastoral" and Susan Isaacs' "Lilly White."
The discussion on Jan. 11 will focus on "Out of Egypt," a family memoir by Andre Aciman, a Harvard professor who grew up within the Jewish community of Alexandria.
Participants are able to purchase all books in advance, at discount prices. A $3 charge for each session helps defray the cost of coffee and bagels. Recent meetings have attracted some 60 attendees from all age groups and with widely varying perspectives. To RSVP or arrange for book discounts, call the Women's Department at (310) 689-3686. -- Beverly Gray, Education Editor